Hello, Readers! I am happy to share with you that my semester ends this week and my summer classes will be online, so I will have a lot more time to post blog posts. It feels like it was just last week that it was the end of January and I was so nervous about starting college. Now that I am at the end of my first semester, I have to say that college is pretty awesome. The flexibility is great, the topics in class are fascinating, the free-thinking and critical thinking that is encouraged is stimulating, and the assignments are actually fun (I wrote a research paper on adult children of alcoholics for my developmental psych class, how is that not fun? lol). The good news is I think I finally figured out "what I want to be when I grow up", which is a community health educator. In case you don't know, a community health educator is a public health worker who plans programs and events to educate people within an organization or community about various health issues such as mental health, sexual and reproductive health, drugs and alcohol, nutrition, safety, etc. and conducts research to figure out a group's health education needs. I am still pursing a B.A. in psychology, but now I will also be pursing a B.S. in community health advocacy and education simultaneously! That makes me excited to go back to school in the fall! Lol. Which takes me to today's blog post...
A Typical Codependent/ACOA's Identity Struggle
Here's some psychology for you: adolescent's go through a process to find their identity. This process includes three stages: identity diffusion (have no idea), identity moratorium (still figuring it out), and identity foreclosure (absolutely sure). Choosing a career is a major part of the adolescent identity discovery process and is a part of almost every adolescent's identity discovery. While every adolescent struggles to choose a career; hence, 50 percent of college freshmen change their major within the first two years of undergrad, adolescents who come from alcoholic homes and/or families have a harder time because they are often forced to grow up quicker, are too focused on their family issues to think deeply about what they want to do for a career, and most likely come from family systems that are not supportive of them finding and expressing their identity. I am going to share with you my story to paint the picture for you. After all, we learn from other's experience, strength, and hope.
My struggle started in the 6th grade. When I was in 6th grade, I wanted to be an addictions counselor and an interventionist like Kristina Wandzilak. I did excellent in school that year, getting straight A's all four marking periods, so the future of my secondary education was looking bright. However, that was the year my addicted cousin got sentenced to prison, and my codependency issues to him really progressed. Since he would be released the year that I graduated high school, I figured that I would have to be home near the family and not too busy to babysit him to make sure he did not relapse. I gave up my dreams of going to a university to study addictions counseling or psychology and resigned to being a paralegal and just getting an associate's degree from one of my local community colleges (classic codependent thinking).
Mid to late high school was when I got a little wiser. When I was in 10th grade, I decided that I really did not want to be a paralegal and discovered that a bachelor's degree or higher was required to be a paralegal anyway. Since I struggled with a lack of sense of self, the only thing I thought I was good at and was interested in was writing, so I thought about being a journalist, even though I had no idea what a journalist even was at the time. During the fall of my senior year of high school, I got accepted into a local university, which was all that I could get accepted to because I did not take SATs or ACTs or a second year of a foreign language, for writing arts to be a web content writer (after learning what a journalist was from my mom's friend who was a journalism professor at the university I got accepted to). My job as a freelance writer and TV production and social media marketing classes quickly proved a career in web content writing was not for me because of the monotony and my lack of tech-savviness. Again, since I did not know what else I was interested in, I decided to go back to my 12 year-old self's choice of becoming an addictions counselor, and I thought it was my dream come true. However, the long, complicated licensing process and burnout rate was not my dream come true. After my cousin was released from prison, my codependency progressed to the worst it has ever been. My mom expressed to me that she did not think being an addictions counselor was the best for my mental health or what I was really destined to do in in my life, and my counselor told me not to commit to a career like that at this point in my growth process because I lacked a sense of self, was actually addicted to "helping" my family members who struggle with addiction, and needed to have my own issues under control for a while before helping others with their issues.
During my semester off between high and college (I unexpectedly had to take a semester off because of the addictions counselor licensing process leaving me confused about where to go to school), my mom suggested for me to become a teacher because that was what she always wanted to when she was younger but never got to because of the costs of college and thought I would enjoy the summers off (great reasons, I know). I never wanted to be that teacher who went into the profession just for the summers off, but I figured that since teachers made such an impact on my life and I enjoyed school and saw the salaries of the teachers from my old high school, I thought it might not be a bad idea. I loved the idea of being a high school psychology teacher, but I knew jobs were limited. I ended up changing my major from psychology for the upcoming spring to English-secondary education. When I started my job as a substitute paraprofessional and saw what working in a school is actually like and thought about how I did not like and struggled with English literature in high school, I ended up changing my major back to psychology and decided to let go and let the Universe bring the right people and circumstances into my life to reveal the answer to me about my future career.
Sure enough, the Universe did just that. I went back to work as a freelance writer after my semester started to make extra money since I could not sub as many days after starting my semester. My first article was about being a health coach (which is another name for a health educator). I was writing about how it has a rapidly growing job market, has a good starting salary, and (most importantly) includes a lot of helping people through public speaking, individual consulting, creating materials, and planning and organizing events and programs. I remembered a YouTube lifestyle guru that I used to watch before she stopped making videos who was a community health educator at a university in California and how I always thought her job was fun. After doing a lot of research into the career, I decided there was nothing in it that sounded like a downfall. There were plenty of teachers, nurses, and social workers who complained about there jobs on the internet, but not community health educators. That is how I reached identity foreclosure. While I firmly believe that I am set on my choice now, I am open to changes in plans if the Universe shows me other directions. While I originally did not think my local university was my dream school, I now know it is because it gives me enough free electives that I can study what I love and what I want to do for a career at the same time and in 4 years.
Now After My Long Story, What Can You Learn from My Struggle?
My struggle to figure out what I wanted to do for a career was tied to 10% typical youth and the other 90% my codependency and ACOA issues. Looking back at how my issues affected my career choice, I see where the errors in thinking came from.
Bria Riley is a published author, recovering codependent and adult child of an alcoholic, who is active in several recovery programs. She knows the turmoil and heartbreak of growing up in an addiction-stricken family and wants to help others who have also been affected by addiction through her writing.